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'Bath salts,' synthetic drugs targeted in Schneiderman lawsuits

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Photo credit: Charles Eckert, 2010 | Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

BUFFALO - Undercover investigators found head shop employees selling mislabeled bath salts and other synthetic drugs that mimic cocaine and marijuana, and telling customers how to use them, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday. His office filed lawsuits in 12 counties to stop the illegal sales.

The lawsuits accuse 16 stores -- including one in Rockland County and another in Dutchess -- of violating state labeling laws that require that products sold to consumers show, among other things, what's in them and where they are made and packed.

Investigators posing as customers found brightly packaged substances described as potpourri, incense, butterfly attractant — or not labeled at all — for sale and most lacked comprehensive ingredient lists, said Schneiderman, who announced the lawsuits at a news conference in Rochester, where two of the stores are located.

The stores named in the lawsuit include Village Sensations in Nanuet and Giggles in Poughkeepsie. The other shops are in Buffalo, Commack, Syracuse, Watertown, Binghamton, Utica, Plattsburgh, AlbanyOceanside and Baldwin.

"We discovered that head shop employees were giving tutorials on how to use dangerous intoxicants," Schneiderman said.

At Pavilion International in Buffalo, an investigator in May bought the hallucinogenic plant salvia, along with a "bubbler" pipe recommended by the store clerk as the best way to experience it, authorities said.

A person who answered the phone at the shop Tuesday said the owner was not there. He declined to comment before hanging up on a reporter.

"With today's actions, we are fighting back to control this crisis and ensure that the days of profiting off the illegal sale of these dangerous drugs are over," Schneiderman said.

The synthetic drugs have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior around the country, including the death of a 21-year-old film student who leapt off a New York City balcony after smoking salvia.

In Utica last month, police officers were called to a city bar and found a woman under the influence of bath salts screaming that she wanted to "kill someone and eat them." Later that day, police in the same city responded to a call involving a 20-year-old man, also under the influence, who'd reportedly threatened to kill his mother and ripped a door off its hinges. Police found him punching a car in a driveway.

"There is a completely new level of violence and unpredictability associated with these patients," Dr. Maja Lundborg-Gray of Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown said in an affidavit filed with Tuesday's lawsuits. "In some instances, hospital staff have been diverted from helping other patients in order to assist in securing and stabilizing designer drug users."

But Schneiderman said it's been difficult for state and federal authorities to ban the substances because manufacturers tweak the compounds once certain chemicals are outlawed, in effect staying ahead of the law.

The lawsuits seek to immediately stop the sale of mislabeled drugs, as well as the sale of nitrous oxide, a gas typically inhaled to produce a high.

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